TV review: The Haunting of Hill House

Daniel Wren

Daniel Wren

Vada Magazine staff writer. Interested in travel, news, politics and dating.
Daniel Wren

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Image: Netflix

Warning: Contains spoilers (and a bad attitude)

There are a slew of reviews proclaiming that The Haunting of Hill House is the best thing for horror since Stephen King. I intentionally avoided all reviews before I watched the show to make up my mind free of bias.

Though I didn’t read the reviews, I was pre-warned that The Haunting of Hill House was a slow-burner. There are some interesting, if glacially slow, episodes at the beginning that paint a (probably too detailed) portrait of each of the main characters. This could mostly be any family drama where brothers and sisters scream at each other and drink their demons away. It would be easy, too, to forget that this is horror – save a few overdone nightmares and visions, it’s mostly very mundane.

And then the show seems to remember it’s a horror series again, and starts slowly increasing the supernatural elements. But by this time, all good will has been lost, and the true horror is the despair as you realise you’ve wasted 10 hours of your life!

To compound matters, every minor character gets a huge monologue that just goes and on and on. There’s nothing subtle in the plot – in fact, it swerves backwards and forwards over the same plot points and character flaws to really hammer each and every one home. There’s no interpretation required because it’s all expounded ad nauseam.

Like, we get it: the house is haunted, the mum wants to protect her kids from the outside world, and the kids are traumatised. Remove the waffle and repetition, and the show would have been four hours, tops. That’s a lot of bloat.

I’ll also state this for the record: the ending was not powerful enough to justify the meandering 10-hour odyssey beforehand. I expected far more from the Red Room. I expected to end the series with a better idea of just who all the various ghosts are (most aren’t identified). I also expected these self-indulgent, rich white folks to pull their heads out of their arses and actually take control of their situations for once.

Seriously. The show is mostly just circuitous meditations on how to passively watch as your life becomes a trainwreck. Even at the climax when the ‘horrors’ (or not) of Hill House are revealed, the family still fails to take action, because of some half-baked, last-minute ‘promise’ to Abigail’s parents.

And why wouldn’t Abigail’s parents, on their deathbeds and finally able to be reunited with their children, take the house down with them to prevent anyone else befalling the same fate? They had nothing to lose at that point – they were all going to be ghosts together anyway. None of their actions from Abigail’s death onwards were believable – and just how quickly did they adjust to the new state of affairs? I don’t buy it.

The whole premise is this: a bunch of wallowing siblings refuse to talk about anything, except when they’re screaming, and never taken ownership of their shitshow lives. Predictably, it only gets worse from thereon in. Oh, and there’s a haunted house in the background, blah blah blah.

So it seems I’m alone among reviewers in my dislike of this show. That’s fine. It’s the kind of TV that fans of Lost and Westworld can masturbate over (it intentionally borrowed from Lost, as it happens), but for the rest . . . I would advise against it. It’s not scary and the payoff just isn’t there.

I was watching Jane the Virgin at the same time and that had the more believable storyline – primarily because none of the characters in The Haunting of Hill House acted at all like real people and their reactions seemed entirely driven by plot need rather than inner conflict or desire.

Take the mother of the main characters, Olivia, for one. She returned to the house that was giving her migraines and terrifying visions, even though she already knew that she and her daughter were both ‘sensitive’ to ghosts. If that were any other parent who cared for herself and/or her kids, and who believed they could sense ghosts, she’d pack up her family and get out of there ASAP, rather than swallowing her husband’s gaslighting and staying in the place that’s making her so palpably, supernaturally ill.

Likewise, all the siblings recognise that Theo senses things. Yet none of them trust her (or themselves) when they see creepy shit crawling out from under desks or covering their model houses in mould. It’s just unbelievable – characters are established, only to ignore anything about them that’s inconvenient for that particular moment in the script.

And the final confrontation? Nothing more than a tea party with rat poison. It was not worth ploughing through this drudgery for.

Please, TV producers, stop torturing your audiences! It might net you some good reviews through Stockholm Syndrome (because who wants to admit they’ve willingly wasted all that time for nothing?), but the rest of us are just crawling up the walls! Aaargh! I’m gonna have to go watch the original Poltergeist again to see how it’s done.

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